You have to start somewhere and this seems like a good place. I’ve spent a lot of time in the United States over the years and perhaps this is why. Pie is uniquely American and comes in as many varieties as there are states in the union, maybe more. Over the years, I’ve tried to sample as many as possible and been shuttled around by various friends and family (good sports, all, particularly the gluten intolerant ones) in my pursuit of the perfect slice. The truth is I like them all – marionberry, rhubarb and strawberry, blackberry, apple, key lime, cherry, loganberry, pecan, peach, blueberry, lemon meringue…. though I think they always taste best when consumed with a bottomless cup of stale coffee in a dingy diner on the side of a highway. On a rainy day.
Generally, I enjoy eating pie more than I enjoy making pie. This is largely due to my crust rolling technique, or more precisely, lack thereof. No matter how many online tutorials I watch or tips I read in recipe books, I never seem to be able to roll out pie dough without swearing as I watch it spread into a shape that in no way resembles a perfect round. Each time, I manage to piece it together into a sort of crazy frankenpie, and somehow in the baking process it magically transforms into a smooth, perfect whole, making me forget all the pain I went through in its construction.
A gift given to me on my last trip to the US was Adrienne Kane’s opus The United States of Pie. This apple pie is the first recipe in the book. By the time I get to the last I hope to have conquered the crust, once and for all.
Standard pie dough
The taste of this crust far surpassed any I’d made before. I think this is due to the presence of vegetable shortening, something I’d previously sneered at but, after a slice of this pie, will never do again.
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt (I used Maldon)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
6 tablespoons vegetable shortening, chilled, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
6-10 tablespoons ice water
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar and salt, until well blended and free of lumps. Add the butter and the shortening and toss gently to coat. With your fingertips, work the fats into the flour, rubbing the larger pieces of butter and shortening between your fingers until the mixture resembles gravel (I did this in the food processor).
Sprinkle on the water, one tablespoon at a time, starting with a total of three tablespoons and then gradually adding more water if needed. As you add the water, blend it in with your fingertips, as quickly as possible, pulling the mixture together and creating a dough. The dough will become less sticky and more of a mass when enough water has been added. (Again, all this can be done in the food processor) Finally, knead the dough minimally in the bowl to make sure it has just enough moisture.
Divide the dough in half. Place each half on a sheet of plastic wrap and seal it. Gently form each one into a disk roughly 3/4 inch thick. Place the wrapped dough in the refrigerator and leave it for at least one hour, or up to two days, before rolling it out. The dough can be frozen for up to one month and defrosted in the refrigerator before using.
1 recipe standard pie dough
1 1/4 pounds (approximately 3 medium) baking apples such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored and cut into 1/4 inch thick slices (4 cups)
14 ounces (approximately 2 medium) eating apples such as Fuji or MacIntosh, peeled, cored and cut into 1/4 inch slices (3 cups)
Juice of 1/2 medium lemon
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
pinch of Kosher salt
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons brandy (I omitted this)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 tablespoon heavy cream (optional)
1 tablespoon coarse sugar (optional)
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
In a large bowl, gently toss the apple slices with the lemon juice, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, flour and brandy until thoroughly well mixed. Set aside.
On a well-floured surface, roll out one portion of the dough until it is about 1/8 inch thick and will fit a 9 inch pie plate. Gently pick up the dough, centre it over the pie plate, and ease it onto the plate. Let the excess dough hang over the rim. Pour in the filling and spread it out evenly. Dot the apple mixture with the butter.
Roll out the second portion of dough to the same size. Lay the dough over the filling. Trim the edges of both layers of dough to leave a 1-inch overhang. Pressing the edges together, fold them under, and then decoratively crimp the perimeter. With a sharp knife, cut 5 vents in the top crust.
For a lovely sheen on the baked pie, use a pastry brush to paint the surface with the cream. If you like, sprinkle the sugar over the cream.
Bake the pie for 15 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 375 and continue baking for 45 to 50 minutes, until the crust is golden brown. Let the pie cool to room temperature before enjoying.